Restore Productive Potential to Flood Damaged Fields

April 25, 2013 06:26 AM

Heavy rains and flooding have left many farm fields in need of physical repair before spring planting. Flood waters erode exposed soils, leaving deep gullies, drifted crop residue, brush and building materials, as well as an assortment of other types of debris. In addition, this debris may be plugging your drainage systems. Along with debris, the flood waters may have deposited sand and silt drifts that could vary from just a few inches to nearly a foot deep.

Michigan State University Extension offers the following tips on dealing with flood damaged fields.

The first step is to assess damages and prioritize repairs. Evaluate field conditions for moisture before you start. Flooded soils can be slow to dry out. When field conditions allow:floodravages1

  • Remove the larger debris.
  • Check tile outlets and tubes for obstructions.
  • Check for plugged risers and breathers.
  • Check for holes or broken tiles.


floodravages2Crop Residue --

Drifted crop residue that is greater than 4 inches deep should be spread in a thin layer before incorporating. Residue less than 4 inches can be incorporated with tillage.

Sand and Silt Deposits --

In areas where the flood water left sand and silt, drifts that are less than 2 inches may be successfully mixed into the soil with normal tillage. Deposits 2 to 8 inches deep can be incorporated with a chisel plow, moldboard plow or other aggressive tillage tool. When deposits are deeper than 8 inches, other types of earth moving equipment may be necessary to uniformly spread soil across the field.

In areas where the running water caused gully erosion, repair will be necessary. Shallow erosion may be repaired with tillage. Deeper erosion may require some type of earth moving equipment for proper land leveling. Be cautious using the drifted sand and silt when filling the eroded gully’s unless you can place topsoil over the top. The sand has very little water-holding capacity and is very likely to erode quickly in another severe rain event.

Soil Testing Recommended --

Fertility and soil health are also a concern when areas of fields are flooded. Soil microbiology can change as a result of flooding. Consider soil testing and targeted fertilization in these areas, especially if the areas are a large percentage of the field. If these areas are consistently subject to this type of erosion, consider grass waterways and cover crops for a long-term solution.

Patience will be critical this spring. It might be easy to feel the need to rush into fieldwork this spring, but in order to maximize productivity, assess your plots and repair flood damage right away. A little quality time with the skid loader at the front end of this season will reduce the long-term effects of flooding on your soil, and could increase your yield at harvest.

All photos: Paul Gross, MSU Extension

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit To contact an expert in your area, visit, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).


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